President Donald Trump said his coronavirus infection was a “blessing from God” because it educated him about potential drugs to treat the disease in a video meant to demonstrate his return to work after several days in the hospital.
The appearance, his first since returning from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, was taped Wednesday afternoon in the Rose Garden by White House staff. Trump seemed upbeat, but his voice still sounded breathless at points and he appeared to be wearing make-up.
Parts of the video looked edited. In it, Trump framed his ongoing bout with the virus as a net positive.
“I think this was a blessing from God that I caught it. It was a blessing in disguise,” he said, citing his first-hand experience with the experimental combination of drugs he was administered at Walter Reed.
He singled out in particular the high dose of an experimental antibody cocktail from Regeneron, saying he requested it from his doctors and attributing his recovery to its effects.
Calling the drug a “cure,” Trump said he would work to make it available at no cost to other Americans.
“I want everybody to be given the same treatment as your President,” Trump said, adding: “It was, like, unbelievable.”
He also seemed downbeat at the prospects of a vaccine before Election Day, saying political maneuvering had stymied progress.
“I think we should have it before the election and, frankly, the politics get involved,” he said.
The video was the first time Trump had been seen since returned from Walter Reed on Monday evening. While he taped a video on Tuesday from the White House residence, it was never released.
The White House said earlier in the day he was being briefed on a looming hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico and stimulus talks in the Oval Office, though Trump himself scrapped talks on additional aid a day earlier.
Oval Office return
Unsatisfied with the temporary office space erected for him in the White House residence, where he was isolating after returning from three days in the hospital, Trump had been itching to return to the Oval Office since Tuesday but aides convinced him to stay put.
Few seemed to believe, however, that Trump would last much longer isolating in his private quarters.
In a new memo released midday Wednesday, Trump’s doctor relayed the President saying “I feel great!” and reported he had been symptom-free for 24 hours. But the memo declined again to provide critical information such as when Trump last tested negative, what his lung scans show and whether he is still on the steroid dexamethasone or any other medications that could be masking his symptoms.
Trump’s “schedule right now is fluid, we’re looking at his prognosis,” chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters earlier at the White House. “If he decides to go to the Oval, we’ve got safety protocols there.”
Indeed, preparations had been made for Trump’s eventual return to the Oval Office, including positioning a so-called “isolation cart” stocked with yellow medical gowns, respirator masks and plastic goggles required for visitors just outside the office doors near where Trump’s assistants sit.
When he did return, Trump avoided other areas of the Wing Wing, entering the Oval Office directly from outside. Meadows and social media adviser Dan Scavino joined him there dressed in the protective gear. It wasn’t clear who else he might have encountered along the way.
Trump made phone calls and spoke with aides mostly from his third-floor quarters on Tuesday and a taped a video – never released – from downstairs where offices were set up for him next to the medical suite.
What we do know about his health
All except Trump’s senior-most aides are mostly in the dark about his health status beyond what his doctor released publicly. While he seemed short of breath at times on Monday night, people said he seemed somewhat better on Tuesday, though few actually saw him in person.
In his memo on Wednesday, White House physician Dr. Sean Conley wrote Trump “has not needed nor received any supplemental oxygen since initial hospitalization” and said he has been “fever-free for more than 4 days,” but did not say whether Trump was currently receiving any medications which could lower a fever.
Trump’s labs, he said, “demonstrated detectable levels of SARS-CoV-2 IgG antibodies from labs drawn Monday.”
Regeneron, the company that makes the experimental antibody treatment given to Trump on Friday, said the test likely showed evidence of the treatment, not Trump’s own immune response.
Over the weekend, Trump’s physician said days seven to 10 after Trump’s diagnosis could be the most critical, a window that seemed to open on Wednesday. The White House continued to refuse to disclose when Trump last tested negative for coronavirus, throwing into doubt the extensive testing regimen they had long pointed to as their main protection against the virus.
It also wasn’t clear which drugs the President continues to take. He was due to receive his final dose of remdesivir on Tuesday night at the White House but it wasn’t known if he remains on a steroid, which some inside the building have openly speculated could be altering his mood.
Any aide who comes near Trump is required to don protective garb, according to a person familiar with the matter. It has given the White House residence the feeling of a sci-fi movie, one person said, as aides, staff and Secret Service personnel who need to come near Trump suit up to protect themselves.
Trump had raised on Tuesday the possibility of working from the Oval Office instead of the rooms that have been arranged for him on the lower level of the executive mansion, saying he feels ready to go back. Aides convinced him to remain isolated at least for a day.
The hallways and offices in the West Wing have taken on a very different feel from when he left for the hospital on Friday. The President’s staff has largely moved to working from home because so many of them have tested positive for coronavirus.
More than 15 members of Trump’s staff or inner-circle have tested positive in recent days, including his wife, senior adviser, press secretary, campaign manager, former counselor, personal assistant, four press aides, three Republican senators and a member of the military who directly serves the President.
Stephen Miller, Trump’s immigration adviser and speechwriter, said he tested positive Tuesday and was entering isolation. He is one of several people who had helped Trump prepare for last week’s presidential debate who have now tested positive, including former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
It was unclear when the White House or the President would release the video remarks he taped on Tuesday, whose themes were similar to those in the video Trump recorded Monday night, a person familiar with the taping told CNN.
The atmosphere inside the White House was described by one official as “chaotic,” largely because many people were working remotely and the President was calling the shots.
This story has been updated to reflect the news Trump worked from the Oval Office on Wednesday.